Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #165. First published in the St. Cloud Times online Apr. 3, 2021; in print Apr. 4

The next first-Sunday-in-April Easters are 2026, 2029, 2037 and 2040. At age 82 I’d better take the chance this year to say something about this day in the Christian calendar.

The New Testament isn’t clear about what happened that Sunday morning so long ago – though “long ago” is relative. Evidence of homo sapiens from 300,000 years ago has recently turned up, so the narrative that Jesus is linked to is 75 times the stretch between Abraham and us. The biblical chronicle comes along pretty late in the day.

Given the sweep of humanity’s story, the distinction between yesterday, today and tomorrow is not all that sharp. What happened 2,000 years past wasn’t “long ago.” It’s more like “this morning.”

And why stop at 300,000 years ago?

From 10th-century Ireland comes a text, “The Evernew Tongue,” that links Easter and Creation itself, which we know takes the record back about 13.7 billion years.

“Every substance, every element and every essence to be seen in this world were all combined in the body in which Christ rose; that is, in the body of every human being. … All the world rose with him, for the essence of all the elements was in the body that Jesus assumed.” Every human being. All the world. So says the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”

The New Testament accounts of Easter day vary: how many women came to the tomb, what they saw, how the stone was rolled away, how they responded (Mark: “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid”; Matthew: They ran to spread the news; Luke: When the disciples heard their account, “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them”; John: Mary Magdalene sees Jesus, thinks he’s the gardener). Luke adds what happened that evening: Two of Jesus’s followers are on the road to Emmaus, he joins them, they don’t recognize him, he interprets Scripture to them, and when they dine “he took bread, blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight.”

What does it mean for us in “the year of our Lord” 2021 to say that Jesus – in whom every human being (300,000 years’ worth) and all the world (the whole 13.7 billion years’ worth) are summed up – is alive? The meaning doesn’t depend on exactly what happened in Jerusalem. The Apostle Paul, addressing the church in Corinth years before the earliest Gospel was written, says of the resurrection, “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.”

The image that brings it home for me is in Revelation, a biblical book cited for a different reason in a recent piece by another Times columnist. A figure who is clearly Christ says, “Listen! I am standing at the door knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.”

He’s knocking. Not breaking the door down. Not picking the lock. Not calling for backup. He’s waiting for a response.

Christ at the door came vividly to mind on March 25 when Georgia state Sen. Park Cannon, a Black woman, was arrested by white officers and charged with two felonies when she knocked on the door behind which Gov. Brian Kemp, in the presence of six other white men and beneath a picture of a slave-owning plantation, signed the most sweeping voter suppression law enacted anywhere in this country in decades. Cannon was Christ knocking on that door. They locked her up.

A few weeks earlier another knock on a door – this time, beating the door down – demonstrated what Jesus warned against: “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name.” Nothing has more sickened me, as a Christian, than Bibles and crosses, “Jesus Saves” and “Jesus 2020” signs – one next to a gallows – on display at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Those “Christians” mocked Jesus worse than the Roman soldiers did.

“Christ is risen” is proclaimed this year by two Black women. One is Park Cannon. The other is Amanda Gorman, who emerged from the Capitol door on Jan. 20 and made Easter come early. The Capitol was a very dark place two weeks before. Gorman asked: “Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” Then she declared hope, in the tradition of Tubman and Douglass and King and Angelou and Lewis – “The new dawn blooms as we free it.” “We will rise,” she said, four times, meaning all of us.

The door is open.